If you've been considering front-end engineering as a career option, then you've likely heard about Bootstrap and its multiple versions. Initially released in 2011 by Twitter developers Mark Otto and Jacob Thornton, Bootstrap has become one of the most popular CSS frameworks.
But what is Bootstrap, and why should you learn to use it? In this article, we'll go through a brief overview of Bootstrap along with its strengths and weaknesses.
What is Bootstrap?
Bootstrap is an open-source framework used for creating responsive, mobile-first sites. We know that's a mouthful, so let's go through the parts of that definition one by one.
Bootstrap is open source
Bootstrap was initially created as an internal tool used by Twitter but quickly became open source (free and publicly available to use). Anyone can get Bootstrap for personal or commercial use.
Bootstrap is a framework
Part of designing a website is designing how different frames and menus are positioned on the page and in relation to each other. Take a look at the menu and panel layouts on this webpage. All of this is programmed using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).
But what if you want to use the same basic website structure multiple times? After all, many company websites have the same basic layout: a sleek homepage with the main menu showing you products and services, more about the company, and some contact information. That's where Bootstrap comes in.
Bootstrap helps you create responsive websites
Responsive websites are pages that easily adapt to different devices, platforms, and screen sizes. Whether you're visiting a website on Chrome from your Android phone or your 27-inch iMac at home, you should see a version of the page with dimensions, buttons, and fonts that don't look too big or too small.
This can be tricky to get right when you're designing a website from scratch, and Bootstrap does a lot of the work here so that you don't have to (more on this below).
What is Bootstrap 4?
Since its initial version in 2011, Bootstrap's had several updates that added major features (such as navigation options). They've also added more browser support and changed some fundamental parts of the framework (such as switching from LESS to SASS for styling).
Bootstrap 4, which was finalized in 2018, is widely used today, and it's the version we recommend learning to get started with Bootstrap.
The good news: advantages of Bootstrap
Now that you know what Bootstrap is and what it's used for, let's explore its major advantages.
This is probably the biggest advantage of Bootstrap. A well-designed grid system is what makes web pages responsive across a variety of screen sizes.
As mentioned above, Bootstrap does all the work here by providing a mobile grid system that can adapt to any device and screen resolution. And, with Bootstrap, it's easy to mark elements of your web page that are only visible to desktop, tablet, or mobile viewers.
Websites created with Bootstrap are compatible with all major browsers, including:
Bootstrap's platform compatibility includes:
- Windows 10 Mobile
This takes a lot of stress out of testing. If you don't have access to a Windows phone, no more having to worry that there'll be a compatibility problem with that one platform or browser.
Open-source products are great, but what happens when you have a problem? Luckily, Bootstrap comes with comprehensive documentation, so it's easy to look up how each bit of code works in detail. The documentation even includes samples of code, making it easier for beginners to pick up Bootstrap.
The bad news: disadvantages of Bootstrap
Now that you know about the power of Bootstrap, you might be wondering why more people and companies aren't using it. Like all good things, you need to consider a couple of trade-offs before creating a website with Bootstrap.
You might call Bootstrap a victim of its own success here. People everywhere are using Bootstrap to build their websites, which means that a lot of sites are built off the same template.
While it's possible to customize your Bootstrap site, most people stick with the basic design layout. So, unless you're willing to put in the extra time and effort to customize Bootstrap, keep in mind that your website will look just like a lot of existing websites.
While Bootstrap lets you easily build responsive sites, it's not necessarily the most efficient option. In fact, Bootstrap websites are known to be resource-intensive, which means longer loading times and battery drain for anyone visiting your site.
It's possible to use Bootstrap's customization tools to eliminate code and functions that you don't need, but this will take some time and Bootstrap expertise.
The takeaway: when to use Bootstrap
Bootstrap is a powerful tool that lets you quickly build attractive websites that look great on desktops, phones, and tablets. While there are some definite disadvantages to Bootstrap, in many cases, the benefits of website responsiveness, wide compatibility, and saved time will outweigh the cons. You can even eliminate the biggest drawbacks with a bit of extra time and effort.
If you're considering a career as a Front-End Developer, you'll definitely want to be familiar with Bootstrap. Because it's so popular in web development, there's a good chance it'll be included in your future employer's tech stack.
How to start learning Bootstrap